When Uncanny X-Force was announced I was initially skeptical of the idea. It was coming right on the heels of the closure of the last X-Force series by Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, which I came on board for during it's it's final two story archs. Since I had missed being on board for that series from the beginning, I thought I should at least see what this new Uncanny X-Force was about. The series kept the same initial theme and mission - of a clandestine killing Strike-Force, lead by Wolverine, taking out the X-Men's enemies permanently.
Yet this new series, by Rick Remender and Jerome Opena, far exceeded my expectations. What began as yet another iteration of the team has turned into The Single Best X-Men book on the market. The whole of X-Men history and continuity has been used as a jumping off point for events in the book - but thing are done with a fresh and dynamic approach, literally carving out new X-Men lore - which has been desperately needed ever since the main series made the X-Men into isolationists, rather than heroic outcasts.
The series began with a very straightforward mission: Kill Apocalypse, once and for all. Apocalypse has always been a virulent and oppressive foe for the X-Men. He's an ancient mutant (possibly the first mutant in history), and all throughout the ages he has pursued the single minded concept of Darwinism "survival of the strongest". If not for the legacy of Xavier's X-Men to stand in his way, Apocalypse would take over the planet and decimate the human population - in favor of the stronger species of mutant. One of the biggest X-Men cross-over events "Age of Apocalypse" even took us on a journey into a re-written history where Apocalypse did win, making the world over in his image where he ruled. So making Apocalypse the first enemy, let alone setting goal of ending him forever, was an ambitious and exciting jumping off point for the series.
The cast that was assembled for the team proved just as exciting as well. Besides Wolverine, who lead the team on missions, there as a curious but deeply fulfilling cast of characters we where treated to.
Archangel - Warren Worthington the III was a hold-over from the last X-Force series - where he once again was faced with the over-powering legacy of the transformation Apocalypse had once done to him. No longer "Angel", but Archangel, Warren transformed his feather wings into a razor sharp metal, he is faced with a new thirst for blood and death previously thought purged from his mind long ago.
When Warren had originally lost his wings, he accepted Apocalypse's offer to heal him -- yet this resulted in him being transformed into one of Apocalypse's Four Horseman - Death. He fought against his friends and allies, until they where able to bring back Warren's brain-washed mind. He still retained the blue skin and metal wings Apocalypse had given him - but in several years since it had seemed as if he had purged this destructive force out of his body and soul. The metal of his wings had shattered, with feather wings laying underneath - and the blue tint of his skin had been taken away. Yet the persona of "Death" came back with a vengeance - and this entire series has made Warren's deteriorating control over himself a central issue.
Psylocke - The X-Men's resident psychic ninja. Elizabeth Braddock. Psylocke's presence on the team has primarily been because of Warren - as she's been helping to build psychic prisons around the virulent "Death" persona - and trying to cure Warren of his condition. Yet being on the team, and killing enemies, has become second nature her - and the results of their missions have been taking a tole on her. Still, she's been a corner-stone for the group - holding them together through their most difficult challenges.
Fantomex - The inclusion of Fantomex is the series has turned out to be a truly inspired choice. This character, created by Grant Morrison, is part of the larger Weapon Plus program that Wolverine endured. His entire persona is just a brilliant collection of bizarre concepts -- an international thief by trade, Fantomex was created in a Weapon Plus facility called "The World", raised by programs in a virtual France, where the programmed accents where not very good. (Thus his French accent always sounds fake). He has psychic powers able to create mis-direction, expertise with fire-arms, and possesses a secondary external nervous system in the form of a flying sauser called E.V.A.
Just reading my brief explanation of him, you can see why he didn't show up in comics for a long while after Grant Morrison finished his X-Men run. Yet fans loved it when he returned in the pages of Uncanny X-Men - and he has since been regarded as a brother-in-arms to Wolverine, as they are both survivors and results of the Weapon Plus Program. His sarcastic whit and charming style has made him simply of the best characters on the team.
Deadpool - Deadpool's inclusion in the group at first seemed to be just for sales - as this probably makes the 3ed or 4th book Deadpool has starred in at Marvel. (If Wolverine can be in multiple books, so can Deadpool!) While he's primarily been on the group for both sales and comedy relief - Wade has actually proved to be an invaluable ally on the team.
He was originally brought onto the team by Warren, who was paying him to gather info on Apocalypse's minions - he ended up remaining on the group once they realized that he wasn't even taking the money given to him. Wade pretty much is on the team because he wants to fit in - but he's proved to be a pretty valuable team mate as well.
The first four issues the series brought X-Force into conflict with Apocalypse's new group of Horsemen. These Horsemen are apparently Apocalypse's vanguard for his final days - and where recruited over the centuries and saved for just this moment, when Apocalypse would be vulnerable. These new Horsemen prove to be more than a match for X-Force - giving the team a true challenge.
Against all odds X-Force was able to defeat Apocalypse's Horsemen, and infiltrate their way onto Apocalypse's ship. There was a significant surprise waiting for them, though -- which turned out to be the central hook of this new X-Force series. When they finally reach Apocalypse - they are startled to find just a child. It's never been revealed in detail why Apocalypse' minions needed to re-constitute their master in the form of a child, but that was the situation that X-Force was left with. (It's similar to the concept of "if you have the chance, would you kill Hitler as a child?") This child, while innocent now, was created with the DNA of the original Apocalypse - and would undoubtedly rise to power and threaten the planet if allowed to mature. The group is hotly debating what to do.
Archangel, naturally, wants to kill the boy -- because whatever form Apocalypse takes, this un-ending millennial old creature would always threaten the world. Psylocke had to fight to hold Warren back. Wolverine eventually opted to take the boy, and attempt to raise him right.
All debate became moot, when Frantomex took matters into his own hands and shot the boy, point blank range, right through the head. This act of violence against a child, even a child as potentially dangerous as Apocalypse, defined the kind of missions this group where dealing with. Rationalizations are made by all the characters afterwords - Wolverine pointedly saying that Frantomex had saved them from a moment of weakness and indecision.
The series next story arch focused on Frantomex - as his home "The World" was attacked. "The World", I have to explain, is the facility Frantomex was developed and raised in. The facility, operating in rapidly advanced time, has long since become a petri dish of monstrous weapons and all manner of sci-fi horrors run amok. Still, it's Fantomex's home - and he has kept it safe by miniaturizing the facility to the size of a ball.
A group of cyborg-enhanced Super-heroes from the future, called Deathlok, attack Fantomex to retrieve "The World". This is another example of the insane but deeply fun ideas Rick Remender has constantly been bringing to the table.
The original Deathlok has also come from the future to help stop they rouge cyborg zombiefied heroes. Apparently the approaching future is going to be very, very bad - and somehow "The World" is going to be key in how history changes. After helping Fantomex and X-Force defeat the future-cyborg/zombie heroes, Deathlok unofficially joins the group - but with the express mission of protecting "The World" from future abuse.
With comics today, the TPB market has in the past decade changed how comics are made. There's a term called "decompression" - where a story arch that regularly could be told in, say, 3 or 4 issues, is instead stretched to 6 issues - making it easier to package and re-sell as a TPB or Hardcover later. It's not necessarily a bad thing, as it can lead to some impressive storytelling techniques, using more visuals to tell a story slower and in more detail. Yet it's over-use has become far too common with comics today - making single-issue stories a rare treat; let alone single issue stories that contain a wealth of ideas and plot points, letting you feel like you've gotten you're money's worth with 22 pages for 3.99. Rick Remender has excelled in this area - as his issues, even when part of a longer story arch, always delivers content worth the money you've spent. Uncanny X-Force had three single-issue stories in a row.
The first single issue story revisited an old foe of the X-Men: the Shadow King. A psychic parasitic entity that has long plagued Xavier and his students over the years. He's never been my favorite of villains, as his presence in a story can too often make it seem needlessly convoluted -- but this single issue didn't dwell too long on his confusing and convoluted history. It basically focused on Psylocke's fighting the character, as the Shadow King prepared to take over the minds of soldiers on a nuclear launch site. While psychically confronting the Shadow King, and the other members of X-Force where played against each other by being mind-controled, the subject of the mental barriers Elizabeth had constructed around Archangel's "Death" persona where tampered with.
The Death persona was freed from it's mental prison in Warren's mind. Death annihilated the Shadow King in thanks, and made it so Psylocke would not remember what had occurred. In the physical world, now under Death's influence, Archangel killed one of the soldiers. It was explained to the other team members that the Shadow King was about to force the soldier to launch the missiles.
The next issue served somewhat as an examination of Wolverine, and about killing, and what it meant over all for the series. Magneto, now a member of the X-Men, managed to find out about Wolverine's secret clandestine X-Force operation. He didn't want to expose them, though; he wanted Wolverine's help in a matter he felt he couldn't do himself. Magneto gave Wolverine the name of a Nazi War Criminal, asking that he be taken care of. As a survivor of the holocaust, Magneto had a personally invested stake in this man's death. Wolverine initially objected, saying that his group weren't hired killers - that they only went after enemies that needed putting down. Despite this Wolverine eventually agreed, and went to kill this elderly Nazi. The issue played out somewhat silently from that point, as it showed Wolverine preparing and traveling to confront this man. Wolverine found him and went to murder him. The Nazi, though, gave a word of warning - to be prepared for the day someone similarly would came to kill him. It a poignantissue, with a striking message at the end.
The next single issue delved into Warren's tenuous grasp at maintaining control over his "Death" persona. A reporter was tipped off to video of Archangel, at the nuclear launch facility, showing him killing the innocent soldier. This was the Shadow King's revenge, managing to reconstitute himself and push this evidence in the right direction. The newspaper was owned by Warren Worthington, and the editor reached out to his boss about it. Warren said that it was a smearcampaign. Psylocke noticed Warren's erratic behavior and knew something was wrong and warned Wolverine. As Archangel Warren found the editor and killed him, and went on ahead to the reporter to murder him as well. Wolverine was there waiting, desperate to save his friend. A violent and vicious battle was had between the two, until Archangel was eventually subdued. To protect their secrecy Psylocke erased the memories of the reporter. With Archangel now completely submerged as Death, he was imprisoned in their base. Wolverine, though, wasn't about to let yet another of his friends down like this. They had always known the potential for Archangel going out of control - but Wolverine didn't want to admit they where at that point yet.
Wolverine reached out to the one person on who might know how to cure Warren ofApocalypse's control. They sought out the Dark Beast - an alternate reality version of Dr. Hank McCoy, who hails from the dimension where the Age of Apocalypse took place. The Dark Beast offered a slim chance of hope - something only obtainable in his home dimension" A Life Seed".Apocalypse's technology comes from god-like aliens called the Celestials, who strive to evolve life-forms to their highest potential. Apocalypse fulfills this mission, in a way, by championing mutant life over humans - to force the evolution of the strongest. The Celestials apparently are present in the AoA Dimension - and X-Force is willing to risk going there to save their friend.
Using the Dark Beast's knowledge to create a portal to the Age of Apocalypse, X-Force jumped into the unknown. The adventure ties into the larger them of the series, as it's stated by Wolverine:
"This is what happens in a world without Chuck Xavier.
This is what happens when Apocalypse ascends.
This is what happens if we fail."
The world is dominated by mutants, with humans marched into concentrations camps to be exterminated. The X-Men still exist in this dimension, and fought Apocalypse and defeated him - yet the ruin that was created in their world has hardly dissipated.
X-Force has some trouble initially, as they are suspected of being Apocalypse's minions (especially with Dark Beast in toe - chief scientist during Apocalypse's reign). Psylocke is able to vouch for them all, though, once they run into Sabertooth - as she and this alternate dimensionalSabertooth where once both members of the inter-dimensional team: the Exiles.
Dark Beast betrays X-Force right away, but their mission to obtain a Life Seed still forges ahead. Joining with the current incarnation of the AoA X-Men, a plan is launched to seek out the Celestials and steal life seeds from a celestial corpse.
Wolverine finds far more than he bargained for in this alternate dimension. Besides encountering friends who are dead on his side, like Nightcrawler, he also discovers a daughter he never had. Yet nothing prepared him for finding a Jean Grey, not only still alive - but a Jean Grey who loved him in this dimension. Things turn completely upside down, though, when Wolverine discovers the new man in charge of this dystopian hell scape: his counter-part, the AoAWolverine. This version of Wolverine, who was once a good man who fought against Apocalypse, has been possessed by the power of Apocalypse. In stark comparison to what was happening to Warren, this Wolverine has similarly taken Apocalypse's place, and continuing his mission of exterminating the human race. Displaying how far this version of Wolverine has fallen, he murdered his own daughter right off the bat. Logan desperately wants to save this alternate version of Jean Grey, and is willing to use the Life Seed obtained to cure her Wolverine. Jean refuses, with X-Force eventually forced back into their original dimension.
Waiting for them back home, though, is Archangel - freed from his cell by the Dark Beast, and joined by all the Horsemen of Apocalypse. Archangel has also changed appearance; just like the alternate version of Wolverine - Archangel now wore the same armor of Apocalypse. With X-Force completely surrounded, they have no choice but to flee. Wolverine is severely injured, to the point where his healing factor might not even be able to save him. Psylocke attempts to do what they had always prepared for, and kill Warren - but misses her mark, unwilling to do it at the last moment. The Life Seed is stolen from them, as is "The World".
While X-Force and Deathlok escape with the near dead Wolverine, Psylocke decides to stay behind to continue to try and save Warren's soul.
Archangel's plans are quickly set into motion. Instead of enslaving the human race and wiping them out slowly like his predecessor did, Archangel has a much grander plan in mind. Hereceives help from a new ally, a fiery powerhouse called Genocide, who is the son of one ofApocalypse's former original servants. Genocide bears an uncanny resemblance to another menace from the Age of Apocalypse - a creature known as Holocaust, who had long since been defeat years ago; this in undoubtedly Holocaust's double in this dimension. Being less aggressivethan Holocaust ever was - Genocide however is very eager to serve the heir to Apocalypse.
With X-Force on the run, and Wolverine near death, things seem bleaker than ever. Deathlokrepeatedly warns that if the time-line does not deviate drastically, then within hours countless innocent people would die. The future Deathlok had come to stop was quickly coming to pass. Since Wolverine is out of commission, Fantomex and Deadpool can't call either the X-Men or the Avengers for help. The next scene shows Archangel carrying Genocide to a rural town and landing in the center. A young child recognises Archangel as one of the X-Men, and tell his mother not to worry, since their Super Heroes. Archangel flies away, while Genocide unleashes his incredibly destructive power, wiping the town completely off the map.
That's where the series stands so far, with issue #15 coming out soon. I really have to express my joy in how exciting this entire series has been so far - and it's not over yet. In December I believe a new jumping-on point will be given to readers, as X-Force, a team lead by Wolverine, will obviously be very important in the new status quo for the X-Men, as Cyclops and Wolverine split the X-Men down the middle over differences in leader-ship.
Also, Nightcrawler - a character killed in recent years to much fan resentment, will be joining the cast of X-Force -- but not the Nightcrawler of old. I don't know how this is going to happen, but the Nightcrawler from the Age of Apocalypse is going to take up residence in the regular Marvel Universe and serve on the team.
I've really just been astounded by the level of quality, and intense story-line this series has given us -- and all within 14 issues. Remember what I said about decompression? Usually this large amount of story content would take 25 to 30 issues to tell; so for me this has been a series well worth your money. The art of the series has also been second to none. Jerome Opena has created some of the most beautiful pages I've ever seen in comics, and the rest of the artists and colorists should be applauded for maintaining the look and feel of the series, even when Openawasn't there. Rick Remender has brought the X-Men legacy alive again with his excellent writing throughout this series, and I hope the series continue to prosper as Wolverine takes up leadership of his half of the X-Men, which will no doubt have an effect on Uncanny X-Force.